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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Univeristy alum discusses new book on democracy

Published: February 29, 2008
Section: News

Ted Gup ’72 returned to his alma mater on Wednesday for a “Meet the Author” event, sponsored by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, to talk about his new book Nation of Secrets.

Florence Graves, founding director of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, introduced Gup as “ a legendary investigative reporter” and said that when one comes across a Ted Gup article, “you better read the story because it was something significant, something important.”

Speaking before a crowd of about thirty in the Shapiro Campus Center multi-purpose room, Gup began with an overview of his political views. While Gup says he was not sure whether he could be considered liberal or conservative, he was forthright about his criticism of the Bush administrations for its lack of transparency.

“There are such things as legitimate secrets, but what I see is a profusion of bogus secrets,” commented Gup.

Taking a “sociological view of secrets,” Gup remarked how in American society it is rude to both keep secrets from people in the public sphere and eavesdrop on people’s secrets. “How do you reconcile these two polarities?” questioned Gup.

Gup continued by talking about ways in which the government covered the truth in secrecy, alluding to the sinking of the Maine, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and the intelligence on Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. These three events, respectively, led to America starting the Spanish-American War, Vietnam War, and the current Iraq War causing Gup to say, “secrecy is the great lubricator of so many stories…a fair number of wars are lubricated by secrecy.”

To put the secrecy in the current administration in perspective, Gup cited that 14 million documents are selected for classification each year. The yearly cost of this classification is over nine billion dollars, larger than the annual budged of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although the classification has gone out of control according to Gup, “formal classification is only the tip of the iceberg.” Even more documents are not being labeled sensitive, although they remain unclassified. “The sensitive but unclassified is a problem because the system could be hijacked and we could not know it,” Gup remarked.

Gup also challenged the notion that “secrecy carries a cache of greater credibility,” saying, “if you have an agenda and you don’t want it challenged you protect it intensely because often times the unclassified information has been scrutinized and challenged.”

Many of the questions Gup fielded after his talk centered around ideas for how both the media and American citizens should respond and take action against this secrecy. Gup said that he “want[s] people to care and get engaged…Americans have a false sense that they are uniquely ignorant,” in that Americans do not respond to politics until the facts hit. “The trick is how do you get them the facts?

Gup joked, “I love being here [at Brandeis], my only regret is that I can’t come back as a freshman again.” A member of the class of 1972, Gup majored in Classical Studies with the hope of becoming a poet. He wrote only one newspaper article for the Justice when he was at Brandeis that was never published. It was not until he was encouraged by an internship at the Washington Post did Gup decide to embark on a journalism career.

Gup would eventually make it back to the Washington Post in 1978 as a journalist on the investigative team under the famous Bob Woodward. After spending almost 20 years at the Post, Gup left for six years to write for Time Magazine. He currently is the Shirley Wormser Professor in Journalism and Media Writing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.